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Political opposites attract in NC

RALEIGH – When some of the more liberal and more conservative advocacy groups and think tanks in North Carolina agree on a contentious issue in state government, it’s worth noting.

It doesn’t happen all that often.

But that’s the case with two issues raised in this young 2015 legislative session – independent redistricting and economic incentives.

Conservative and liberal groups support a new way of drawing state and federal legislative districts to try to rid the state of the gerrymandering that has plagued the process under both Democratic and Republican rule.

Similarly, liberal and conservative groups are raising questions about economic incentive and targeted tax break proposals working their way through the General Assembly right now.

The funny thing about this is that the Republican-led Legislature, on both issues, appears to be heading in a different direction from the liberal and conservative groups.

That’s clear on the redistricting front. Senate leaders have said House redistricting reform proposals, if they make it out of the House, won’t go anywhere in their chamber. Senate leader Phil Berger recently told the Associated Press that he hasn’t seen an independent redistricting commission “that is truly independent.” Other Republicans who once sponsored redistricting reform legislation, particularly in the Senate, have conveniently changed their tunes on the topic now that they control the statehouse.

For many years, good government groups and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have championed changes to the redistricting process to try to ensure that legislative districts are drawn for voters, not to preserve political power. John Hood, chairman of the conservative John Locke Foundation, has long supported changes to the process. He stood with Chris Fitzsimon of the liberal N.C. Policy Watch at a recent press conference, where nonpartisan redistricting bills were touted.

A similar phenomenon is occurring in the debate over economic incentives. An incentives bill, the NC Competes Act, made it through the House last week and now goes to the Senate, which is expected to make significant changes before passing some type of incentives legislation of its own.

The bill that cleared the House doubles the amount of money for an often-used incentives program, Job Development Investment Grants (JDIG), which is aimed at bringing large companies to the state to create jobs. It also extends a jet fuel sales tax break for American Airlines and changes the way corporate taxes are calculated for large manufacturers, among other provisions.

Much of the bill is steered toward landing an automobile manufacturer. At least a couple such companies are said to be looking at southeastern states right now.

Groups on the left and right are criticizing the proposal. The conservative The Civitas Institute named the NC Competes Act its “Bad Bill of the Week,” deeming it “morally objectionable because it uses political power to advantage some businesses over others.”

At the same time, the liberal N.C. Justice Center is raising serious questions about the JDIG program, including the rather low success rate of the companies that receive the grants and the fact that most of the money goes to urban areas instead of rural parts of the state that need jobs and investment the most.

Before throwing more cash at the program, the Justice Center wants the state to focus first on strengthening it to hold recipients accountable for their promises, as well as ensure that it helps poorer areas.

The House passed the NC Competes Act last week, with a majority of Republicans and Democrats voting for it.

Who will the Senate listen to?

Gannon writes for Capitol Press Association.

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